How to Grow Scented Geraniums
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
|Scented Geranium Collection|
Joy Logee Martin, Byron’s mother and the second generation owner, loved her scented geraniums. It wasn’t unusual to find scented geranium leaves pinned to her lapel. “Scenteds,” as they were often called, were popular in the early 1900’s and although they didn’t have big showy flowers like their cousins, their surprisingly fragrant foliage made them the shining stars in bouquets. It wasn’t unusual to have scents such rose, lemon, lime, orange, nutmeg, almond, apple, anise, pine, musk, violet, lavender, balm, oak, or peppermint emanating from a grouping of flowers.
“Scenteds” have other uses too. They were often found in sachets and potpourri bowls or their leaves would be placed in a crystal bowl of water and the fragrance would waft throughout the household. The Rose Scented Geranium became popular in cooking. It wasn’t unusual to have rose flavored honey or rose flavored shortbread, simply by soaking the leaves and extracting the rose flavor out of the leaves and then using the liquid as a food flavoring.
Certain conditions are required to enhance the flowering and foliage of growing Scented Geraniums.
Like so many in this genus, they tolerate dry conditions making them excellent subjects for the container gardener. Since Scented Geraniums are dry land plants, they need a period of dryness between watering where the soil is brought to visual dryness or even a slight wilt of the foliage. Then fully saturate the soil and let the water run through. If wet conditions are a problem, a clay pot is a good choice for your container since it allows the soil to reach dryness quicker than glazed terracotta or plastic containers.
Rose Scented Geranium
|Logee’s Scented Geraniums
Blooming in our Greenhouse
Scented Geranium plants need high light levels to perform well. Full sun is the optimum light exposure. Scented Geraniums need a south-facing window or they should be placed in direct sunlight outside during the warmer months. They can also be grown in an east or west window but there will usually be some stretching of the stems and leaf petioles making the plants a bit “leggy.”
These native South African plants do well under a variety of temperatures and they can adapt to extremes of hot and cold mimicking their native habitat. However, they are frost sensitive and need to be kept above freezing.
The flowering cycle starts in the late winter or early spring and is induced by the increasing day length and cool nighttime temperatures where the nights dip into the 50’s to just above freezing on a constant basis. With the increased light level, flower buds form. This is followed by a period of nonstop blooming that continues until warm nights force the plants out of bloom. Depending on the weather in Connecticut, we have seen them bloom from early spring into late June.
Fragrant foliage is the reason most Scented Geraniums are grown. To test the scent, simply brush or squeeze the foliage with your fingers and then bring your hand to your nose and inhale deeply. The scents are simply stunning. Scented Geraniums have the following fragrances: spice, rose, citrus, woody, fruit and mint.
Pruning is done after flowering and discontinued in late fall so the new growth of early winter can be subjected to the decreased day length and the cool nights that bring the plants into flower.
Apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks in a dilute solution. Container grown plants need some fertilizer but it’s best to not overdo it and err on the lean side, because over-fed plants can quickly become rank and unmanageable.
The best plants are stocky in stature with short leaf petiole and internodes. And although there is a considerable difference in growth habit between the species or cultivars, when grown a little lean on the fertilizer, they make better specimens.
Insects and Disease
Generally, they are free of insects, although whitefly can bother them as well as aphids in the spring. And with the needed dryness, the root systems are generally free of disease.
Hanging Basket Display
Some varieties like ‘Apple’ and ‘Logeei’ make great hanging baskets since their stems are naturally pendulous. The rose scented and lemon scented geraniums do better as potted plants for the windowsill or summer patio since their growth habit is more upright.
Overall, Scented Geraniums are easy to grow, especially when given the right amount of fertilizer, bright light and dryness between watering. Scented Geraniums are a mainstay in our greenhouses and we can’t imagine our gardening space without their fragrant foliage.
A Recipe For Rose Geranium Cake:
Isabel Gordon Curtis's Rose Geranium Cake
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (Calumet)
- Whites of 4 eggs
Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Cream butter and sugar. Add alternately water and flour mixture, then whites of eggs. Whip hard 5 minutes. Line loaf pan with buttered paper and rose geranium leaves. Carefully add cake batter. Bake at 350 degrees until tests done. The geranium leaves can be pulled off with the paper. Note: To intensify the rose flavor, add a few drops of rose extract to the cake batter. You can also use scented geranium leaves when making a standard pound cake recipe.
The Complete Geranium: Cultivation, Cooking, and Crafts by Susan Condor.
http://history.librarypoint.org/scented_geraniums Scented Geraniums Were Stars In Victorian Valentine Bouquets, by Barbara Crookshanks. April 9, 2015.